Future English & Future Britain

The state of education across the world

Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 26 Feb 2012, 19:34

First of all, let me apologise for the length of this post. The topic is a complex one so its study must be precise. (Part 1 especially is of an acquired taste!) Moreover, language is a favourite topic of mine, its degradation something I wish to understand and have a lot to say about, so I've tried to pack all my opinions about it into one post.

Let me also explain the use of bold for inline citations: I think it makes for easier reading than inverted commas, which in an essay like this would be dizzyingly frequent.


INTRODUCTION

When I took up computer programming, I realised how important it is for the language to be as simple and clear as possible. Any syntactical rule that doesn't yield a definite benefit is annoying. As technology has progressed, using it has become ever simpler; in the 70s you needed to think like a machine in order to control one, but nowadays virtually everyone can do it because computers have been made "user-friendly". While this means that a vastly greater number of people can "take part", it also makes redundant the skill and study that used to be required.

This means that a bad programmer will not even realise that he is inferior to an excellent programmer, since the latter's skills are no longer necessary or championed. The person who half-interestedly throws a webpage together with DreamWeaver will not see why the skills of an actual HTML author are worthy in themselves (even if they were completely redundant), and therefore, why the person who takes time to acquire those skills deserves respect.

I think a similar thing is happening with "human" language, at least in the Anglosphere, and certainly within Britain, and especially within Scotland. Complications that used to denote advanced mastery of English (might/may) are now virtually forgotten. In fact, complications that denote basic mastery of English (fewer/less and simpler/more simply) are increasingly forgotten, and the pedant who bemoans this cast as a Luddite, elitist, arrogant, etc.

When simplifying a programming language, the goal is to make it clearer and easier to use. Indeed there are things about English that I think should be simplified (receive and believe, etc.) because they are pointless and only confuse people. But that is something which would be done, if at all, by conscious orchestration.

The simplifying of English that we see in real life is not increasing clarity. It is certainly not enriching or deepening the scope of the language. This is because it is wholly unconscious and unorchestrated. For the most part it is a result of laziness. People are speaking in degraded forms of English because they can't be bothered learning the rules. Those who have learned the rules often can't be bothered to remember them (my own classmates from school wrote better English at 15 than they do at 30).

Obviously there is an exacerbating factor. While people are getting lazier, those who used to curb it - teachers, employers, parents, etc. - are now choosing not to, or are not allowed to, or are not able to since their own education was sub-standard. We'll come back to that later.

The next section comprises predictions as to how the degradation of English will progress.


PART 1: PREDICTIONS

The first prediction is obvious because it is nearly complete: the extinction of the word "whom". The rules for when to use "who" and "whom" are quite fiddly, and the words are so similar that it's little wonder one of them is being absorbed into the other. This is a shame because "whom" is a useful word. You couldn't really say: "For who is the film intended?" It just doesn't sound right. No doubt people eventually will say that sentence but it's a very ugly one!

Certain words will be given easier pronunciations. For example, bottle will become bottuww, as we're seeing among television journalists and, for myself, in the people of daily life. As part of this, usage of the glottal stop will increase, as it has been for years. Eventually the spellings will be updated to reflect how the words are pronounced. With the L changing to W, and the T disappearing, bottle will become bo'uww, and eventually merged into one syllable as bohw. The same with kettle, which will become kehw.

Syllable-merging will be a general thing. One example of it we're already seeing is suppose becoming spose.

A more ornate example is the replacing of there're with there's, because it's easier to say. The unabbreviated versions are being duly merged, so that we see statements like "there is three cars". The same is happening with the past tense (there was five people).

Consonants will be universally swapped for ones that are easier to pronounce. The hard TH (as in that) is being replaced with D, so that you hear dis and dat, especially in London since it fits very well with the Jafaican accent. In Scotland, young people are increasingly saying F instead of the soft TH, so that you get free wise men and frough fick and fin. (The middle-class teenagers who work at my shop sound like toddlers sometimes.)

In terms of punctuation, life will be extremely simple: there won't be any except for the comma. Already, the comma is seen as an all-purpose solution and has replaced the colon, semi-colon and dash, and is quickly replacing the full stop.

The disappearance of the full stop is very revealing psychologically. A full stop splits text up into several sentences, and thus is the beginning of bestowing structure upon the text; organising one's ideas so that they are clear and digestible. This process demands consideration, planning and revision. It demands, in other words, that the writer considers everyone else, not just himself. People can't be bothered doing that, so they forego structure altogether: no full stops, no sentences, no structure. They just use commas to separate ideas. The result is one long sentence, a shallow splurge, a stream of consciousness that has simply been written as each idea occurred to the writer:

We went to the shops, it was pretty boring, Jim got some shoe's but i cudn't be bothered, we had an argument the day before and he was still acting funny, we had lunch and he was saying stupid thing's just to wind me up, i shud of went home, i guess i was hopping we could work it out...


I've packed a few other things into that example....

Spelling is being simplified. The correct spelling of could is not consistent with good etc. so it's being simplified to cud, and presumably good will eventually become gud. Unnecessarily complex spellings (love) and irregular spellings (penguin and location) will surely be nixed by a populace requiring as few rules, and exceptions to them, as possible. So we can expect luv, pengwin and lokaeshin. How people will then know that "luv" is pronounced differently from "gud" is anyone's guess - presumably, it simply won't be pronounced differently: we will lose a vowel.

Words that have multiple spellings will be merged, with the shortest spelling winning out. Again, we're seeing this with you're becoming your and too becoming to.

Past and past-perfect verbs are being merged. For example, went instead of gone, done instead of did, seen instead of saw, wrote instead of written. Among Scottish people under the age of 30, I almost never hear the correct word used. This is true even of 20 year-olds fresh out of top Edinburgh private schools. A month ago I spoke to one such young man, the son of an accountant. He described a Rolling Stones concert:

I seen them last year. They done Ruby Tuesday, they done She's So Cold, they done Jumpin' Jack Flash, they done all my favourites, they done Angie... It was awesome, man.


Though this young man is intelligent and very enthusiastic, were I an employer I would find it difficult to take him on because of the appearance he would give to the company, and how his diction would undoubtedly affect that of other employees.

Another feature of the speech of young Scottish people is the word yous, a plural of you. ("Are yous following this?") Just 10 years ago this trait was confined to the working-class. Now it is absolutely ubiquitous among people under 40, with myself and my brother the only dissenters.

Returning to the Anglosphere in general...

Unusual plurals, like stadia, cacti and wolves, are simply being forgotten.

Have is being replaced by of. We see I would of and she could of. I think this is happening because in that context we will, in our less uptight moments, pronounce "have" without the H sound, so it sounds like "of" - now the spelling is being altered to suit. As a bonus, of is a shorter word than have and doesn't have the confusing E at the end of it.

Any words that end with an "s" are increasingly being written with an apostrophe. At first this was done with plurals (many school's, three play's, etc.) where at least there was a historical explanation: we had been incorrectly writing CDs as CD's and the 1940s as the 1940's for many years. But it is now being done with non-plurals: it become's green, she learn's faster etc. There is no rhyme or reason to when people do this. I think it may become ubiquitous because people don't want to have to think "should I use an apostrophe here?". It's simpler just to do it every time. But eventually, since it will have come to denote nothing, people will wonder what the point of it is and will completely stop using it. Of all organisations in society, a nationwide bookseller has now joined in with this destruction of language.

Whatever happens in the future, the current use of the apostrophe is totally random and reflects widespread uncertainty. One can see this in all sorts of things, such as the haphazard use of capital letters (We went into Town 2day). I think people simply don't know the rules anymore. Everyone is guessing.

It is quite interesting to see people doing something correctly and incorrectly within the same sentence, meaning that, when they get it right, it is just by accident. For example, people cover their bases by using multiple spellings of a word, thinking that one of them will be right. Here is a genuine example from Facebook:
To you, there animals. To me, their family.

The person must have known they were using the same word twice. It's just bad luck that neither of the spellings they tried was correct. Tragically, we can see that the person is perfectly capable of handling different spellings but has either been let down by illiterate teachers, or picked up bad habits from friends, or both. It's becoming a free-for-all. Who's to say in 20 years' time that something is incorrect when everyone is doing it?


PART 2: EFFECTS

It is worth speculating what effects the degradation of English will have.

The most obvious effect is that people's thinking will become shallower. This happens on two levels.

The first can be illustrated with a story. There was a forum I used to frequent. In 2003 it had a rule that people should endeavour to use correct English. Posts tended to be thoughtful and well-considered; inevitable if you are reading over your work for spelling, punctuation, etc. In 2008 the forum changed ownership and the new owner scrapped the rule about correct English, and moreover implemented a new rule: people were not allowed to comment on other people's literacy. I returned to the forum two years later and was shocked at the decline in not only spelling and grammar, but quality of debate. People no longer seemed to put care into what they wrote, so their posts had become trivial and ignorant. I believe this was a direct result of the change in the forum's literacy policy.

But if bad literacy makes for bad writing, bad writing makes for bad thinking. This is the second, and more insidious, way in which degraded English will degrade people.

While I don't agree with Orwell that all thought is verbal, I do believe that available language extends the range and depth of thought. Without language to fix and sharpen ideas, ideas will remain unfixed and blunt. Without a language capable of expressing complex ideas, only simple ones will be expressed and, eventually, formed in the first place.

Degraded English condemns the speaker (and thinker) to a kind of cultural purgatory from which they can never escape. Take the case of Emma West, the tram-bound, toddler-toting racist of dubious education. Her inarticulacy meant that she made her complaints about mass immigration in the most clumsy, simplistic, repetitious and unenlightening way. She had not the language to do otherwise. Her remarks were basic because her thought was basic because her literacy was basic. As such, she has been easily written off as a ruffian whose views on multicultural Britain must be the product of ignorance. This "writing off" has been unspoken, for nobody wants to appear snobbish, but we all know what will have been said about Emma West in the bars around Westminster, Islington and BBC Television Centre. To put it in perspective: Emma West's inarticulacy was so damaging that it neutered an issue which is of intense concern to 95% of her countrymen; because of the inarticulacy, the issue went unaddressed. Brutal dictators dream of having that kind of control over public discourse.

But degraded English has worse effects still. It makes people aliens to themselves and to each other by making analysis and evocation impossible.

Let us review the fictitious account of a shopping trip by a couple in a turbulent relationship:

We went to the shops, it was pretty boring, Jim got some shoe's but i cudn't be bothered, we had an argument the day before and he was still acting funny, we had lunch and he was saying stupid thing's just to wind me up, i shud of went home, i guess i was hopping we could work it out...


Few would say this is a sophisticated analysis, or even an analysis. As TD has noted of psychobabble, it talks about the self but reveals nothing. We can tell the girl is annoyed with her boyfriend but nothing more. Her language cannot sustain nuance or hidden meanings so her account is entirely factual. As such, it is useless for anyone trying to understand the girl or her relationship. Both the narrator and the subject disappear amidst the fuzz of a low-quality transmission. Nothing, in the end, is achieved, for the girl writes only what she already knows: the facts. No self-study or other-study is even possible. We end where we started, except that our memory has been bluntened by being consigned to paper with a blunt instrument. Any missed nuances will be forgotten as the badly-written account becomes "the truth".

There are also geographical implications of the degradation of English. In the absence of an "official" language (standard English), I think we may see English diverging into local dialects. Of course these have always existed but, for centuries, anyone who went to school has had standard English as a common language that they can use to communicate with people from anywhere else. I suspect that standard English will survive, in a slightly simplified form, for centuries, much as Latin survived for centuries after it was a "dead" language, but like Latin it will be a tool of the intelligentsia. People "on the ground" will be speaking wildly different versions of English. We'll have Glaswegian English, Edinburgh English, Manchester English, Newcastle English and, dare I say it, Asian English and Brixton English. The more that the official version becomes irrelevant, the more people will leave it for a dialect which allows easy communication within one's neighbourhood (and, in so doing, bestows identity).

Now, you may say that the Internet will counter this, being a platform where one can communicate with people in any other country. It is reasonable to assume that people will want to retain that capability, and therefore will retain a grasp of standard English. But I dispute this. People only talk online to people they want to talk to; one's Facebook friends list largely reflects one's real life social milieu. I see friends of mine on Facebook writing in broad Scots - how many English people or Australians or Americans can understand what they write? Here is a genuine sample:

Hes no an addict. He went 3 weeks wioot it in the hoose


The websites one visits reflect the range of one's curiosity, regardless of the vast number of websites available. In the same way, there is no reason to assume that, just because everyone is available on the Internet, your average badly-educated Briton will want to converse with them. On the contrary, I think that just as they stick to X-Factor and Daily Sport websites, they'll stick to the social milieu of their real-world life, and this insularity will intensify as their language gets ever more "local". This would be a case of the Internet reinforcing real-life boundaries - something I have never seen discussed, yet which seems very possible to me.

Of course, given the low cultural tastes now abounding, this may not be such a problem; you don't actually need verbal language in order to partake of the trivial nonsense that now constitutes much of Internet "culture". People can share this Monday's web fad without using any words at all. When it comes to expressing their (oh so valuable) opinion of it, they can simply use a smiley face, 0-5 asterisks, or the Like button.

It may transpire, in fact, that the degradation of verbal language is just a step on the path towards wholly symbolic/visual communication, a universal dialect of thumb-ups and thumb-downs expressing the considered critique of trifles by humanity from all corners of the Earth.


PART 3: CIVILISATION

It is easy to overstate the importance of grammar, spelling and punctuation. At least, it is easy for someone to accuse you of doing so. Pedantry is always annoying. Ultimately, if we look at people as functioning organisms, all that is important is that they understand each other's signals. When someone emails me saying "I could of ate five apple's buy now", I know that they mean "I could have eaten five apples by now". That's what they wanted to get across, and they've managed it. Yet, I am more than a functioning organism, and I can't help but feel insulted when someone communicates with me in bad English. It also seems ridiculous that, in Britain, we look upon the transmitting of extremely simple ideas as a challenge so big that just to manage it is an achievement. But that is the situation we're now in.

To me, using bad English suggests several things about the person, any of which could be true:
  • they are unintelligent
  • they have low linguistic ability
  • they simply can't be bothered to speak/write properly
  • they were badly educated and are not embarrassed about it
  • they were perfectly well-educated, but have since succumbed to some kind of nihilism
  • they consider themselves so interesting, and their thoughts so inherently beguiling, that they see no need to "dress them up" for other people's convenience. Indeed, to do so could even be perceived as a lack of self-confidence since one would be humbly considering other people.

Of these possibilities, I would never hold it against somebody that they were badly educated, but I would hope they'd be embarrassed about it. I wouldn't want them to feel inferior, but I'd want them to quietly be aware that education was a good in itself and people who had it were very lucky. This is where culture is vital. Only an elitist culture which believes in good and bad and its own right to make such pronouncements will consider education a good in itself. What we've had since Anthony Crosland in the 1960s (amplified by Thatcher's anti-intellectual bent, then sanctified by Blair's cultural Marxism) is an anti-elitist culture which disparages "the finer things" and sees education as a mere means to an end. That end was initially "make kids employable" but soon morphed into "use kids as putty for social engineering". Neither of these mindsets values cultivation, and language is the core of cultivation. As such, it was inevitably going to suffer.

But the education establishment is probably not the "root cause" of the decline. I think they accelerated it, and one should not underestimate their power (or desire) to do so, but ultimately I think they were just opportunists, seizing the chance to indulge a beloved utopian idea fifty years after it had been discredited by historical events.

What really caused the decline, and what is really being represented whenever a British person uses bad grammar, is a catastrophic collapse in self-confidence by Western civilisation.

For whatever reason, we have lost faith in a particular idea of what our culture represents. The manufacturing/design mentality is thriving in our technology sector where we are making ingenious tools that do wonderful things. I think it would be a mistake to overlook that because it shows that we still believe in progress. But it is a generic kind of progress, which could easily be taken up by another culture (say, China) that totally lacks the history and character of the West. That history and character is what we no longer believe in, and no longer teach to children.

Since we no longer believe in it, nobody wants to appear to be it. Here, cultural Marxism attacks twice at once. It's against Western culture, but it's also against hierarchy. Thus, its perfect target is the individual at the top of Western culture and primed in its traditions: the educated gentleman.

To be "educated" indicates faith in one's culture. You have been nurtured and cultivated to represent the higher ideals that your culture stands for, to possess the more expensive skills it can afford, to be, in short, the best your culture can achieve within the arena of a single human being. Therefore, if people want to appear anti-establishment, the best way is to appear uneducated. And the best way to appear uneducated is to appear ineloquent.

Watching our language degrade, we see a faithful rendering of our civilisation's fall. That we tolerate, actually endorse by inaction, the degradation of our language means that we would endorse the degradation of our culture, perhaps even to its extinction. As TD put it:

Nobody seems willing to avert what does seem to be an inevitable, and perhaps even secretly wished for, wreck.


When liberals claim that they welcome other cultures to Britain, I think what they are really saying is that they welcome the dilution of British culture. When they sanctify "alternative" forms of English, they are really hoping for the destruction of standard English. When trendy educationalists say that children are as wise as adults and their ideas just as valuable, they are really saying that they have no faith in the culture those adults should be imparting, and are secretly pleading for someone - anyone, even a child - to relieve them of the burden of tradition.

We are in some kind of cultural death spiral, and our intelligentsia is, perhaps unknowingly, equipped only to lock us into that spiral ever more tightly. By this I mean that each generation of academics train the next to be even more liberal than they were. The only thing they really believe is that they, and their forebears, are not worthy. With such a belief, the only logical path is liberalisation; the gradual and systematic dismantling of our civilisation; the vain hope that, with enough change, we will no longer feel the heavy breath of our ancestors on the backs of our necks.


PART 4: THE LOW, THE HIGH AND THE RULE

With the Government suddenly aware of the decline in English that must have started about fifty years ago, the designers of the forthcoming new National Curriculum are considering making grammar lessons compulsory.

Now, for all I know, it may work. We should not mindlessly scoff at the idea. But I am not optimistic about it.

Who is going to teach grammar? Even if special teachers are trained up, their lessons will be undone by all the other teachers the children are exposed to.

A perfect example of this is given by an acquaintance of mine, now in her sixties and very much operating against the tide of educational orthodoxy. She teaches seven year-olds at a local school. Throughout the year, she drums it into her class that there is no such word as "yous". This has to be repeated often because they hear the word all the time. By the end of the school year her pupils generally speak good, proper English. But when she meets children she taught the year before, their English has sunk back to degraded levels. Why? Because they are now taught by younger teachers who speak badly. ("How are yous doing with that poster?" etc.) The headmaster does nothing about this because that would be snobbery. This makes my friend's efforts to teach the children proper English completely futile.

She also teaches them that thir'y and for'y and finking are not words, and that they should say "please" and "thank you". These lessons, too, are immediately undone the next year by young teachers who see no need for good diction or politeness in children who are, after all, only expressing themselves. I am glad my friend is about to retire, but it saddens me to imagine the young teacher who will inevitably replace her.

In Scotland, the teacher training colleges have made a big thing in the last ten years of taking on working-class students. This would be commendable, but only if these students were being trained to become culturally, and linguistically, middle-class. On the contrary, political correctness dictates that the colleges must not correct their grammar. Furthermore, political correctness (and general anti-elitism) means that middle-class students adopt the diction of their working-class colleagues so as not to appear snobbish. As a result, it is no exaggeration to say that virtually every new teacher now emerges from training inarticulate and uncouth, before beginning the career in which she will teach hundreds or even thousands of children.

Already, we have teachers and even heads of department who admit to their retirement-age colleagues that they can't give lessons in punctuation or grammar because they don't know the rules themselves. This is happening at both primary and secondary level. At a primary school in my town, a recent wall display had this heading:

P4 have wrote these stories.


It would be bad enough if the children had typed that up and not been corrected by their teacher. It would be even worse if the teacher herself had done it. But, through the grapevine, I know that it was typed up by the deputy headteacher of the school.

What chance does a literate teacher at that school have of insisting that her colleagues use correct grammar so as not to undermine her lessons, when their mutual superior is herself illiterate? Just as TD says that vulgarity jumps from the bottom to the top of the social chain then filters down through all levels of society, so illiteracy has jumped from the uneducated to the educator, and now filters down to all those whom she educates.

A well-spoken child attending that school began using incorrect grammar - "I done it", "we seen it before yous did" etc. When his mother admonished him, he said that it must be correct because it's how his teacher spoke. He had become lower-class, at least linguistically, as a result of going to school. While this boy is the only case I know of personally, I think it is bound to be very commonplace. In fact I expect that every middle-class parent now has to contend with this; it is guaranteed that every child will have at least one badly-spoken teacher, and, when that happens, he will emulate their lazy diction, and then any subsequent teachers will be afraid to correct his English for fear of being snobbish.

Defenders of political correctness say that this really doesn't matter very much. In an online argument, one person told me that every teacher should use a variety of dialects, rather like a human jukebox, in order to "include" all of her "students" and acknowledge local "culture". I find that idea utterly ludicrous. First, it advocates deliberately teaching incorrect grammar to children. Second, it would create a situation where an adult frequently switched into different linguistic "modes" which would be surreal and very confusing for the children. And third, it ignores the blatant feature of human life that bad habits breed other bad habits. Personally I believe that the sharp decline in diction among teachers is connected to other declines in their conduct...

Last year, the younger teachers at a local school (those aged between 22 and 40) decided to celebrate the end of the school year. Whether teachers devoted to their profession would "celebrate" the end of the school year is open to question - but the nature of their celebration is very telling: a pub crawl around the small town in which they teach, their drunken shenanigans visible to everyone who entrusts their infant children to them. When I mentioned this to a friend who had recently started teaching, he said there was nothing wrong with it whatsoever. He said, "it'll be at night. The kids won't see them" - totally ignoring that pub crawling does not befit pillars of the community, which teachers used to be. After all, they were the representatives of civilisation, educating the children of all social classes to be competent in the First World. But try telling that to one of the teachers on that pub crawl, who, on the matter of school inspections, remarked: "yiv go' ae woatch yer grrrammur".

On the one hand, such a decline as this is inevitable when you pour a working-class cohort into a previously middle-class profession and do not insist that they "up their game". But it also rests on the middle-class cohort. This is a general phenomenon, not confined to the education sector, if especially egregious within it. Simply: the middle-class have given up their authority.

An experienced teacher once told me that children from rough families are often, at five years old, pleasant and amiable and willing to please, but that by the age of eight, most of them have become rough: unpleasant, impolite, unfriendly, uncooperative, deceitful and aggressive. This is a survival tactic; the child realises that being "nice" is dangerous when there are ruffians about and the prevailing culture doesn't keep them at bay. No matter the ratio, civilised people need law to protect them from ruffians, otherwise those ruffians will dominate proceedings. I see that as an exact parallel of the situation with literacy. If 75% of people are well-spoken and 25% are badly-spoken, eventually the well-spoken ones will degrade their diction so as to "synchronise" with the ruffian minority, unless the prevailing culture makes the opposite happen. That is what's happening on a national scale across the whole of Scottish society, and it is happening because the prevailing rule of cultural law, so to speak, no longer defends the civilised, or even recognises them as being more civilised. The result? The rough naturally takes control, for power is all it knows.

Let us imagine the very likely scenario that, within twenty years, all teachers in Scotland will speak and write bad English. The effect this will have on us as a nation can hardly be over-stated. Our literacy (already dismal) will degrade rapidly and dramatically. Our culture (already unimpressive) will plummet to suit the language that is available to express it. Soon, broad Scots, or some web-savvy 21st century variant, will be the language of Scotland. There will be no-one, absolutely no-one, speaking proper English.

We are already well on the way to that; indeed, I know nobody else of my generation who speaks proper English by nature, and those just ten years younger are very noticeably worse. Where thirty year-olds can speak properly when forced to, twenty year-olds can't. The decline has been astonishingly fast. And this while the teachers were well-spoken. God only knows what it is going to be like when today's infants, taught by illiterates, are fully grown. We will be like creatures from a sci-fi dystopia: surrounded by the decaying remnants of a great civilisation, bewildered by its majesty, and fit only to gnaw at its spires.

People in England will know better than I whether that country is in a similar situation. I think Scotland is worse because English was always a foreign language here, and we were always, at heart, a peasant nation with the English class system artificially implanted. Perhaps we are simply reverting to type now that English culture is no longer top dog.

But I suspect that the same problems exist in England, just in slightly less advanced forms. Most of the linguistic phenomena I named in Part 1 are present in England. (Since I could go on about it for hours, I will not get started on the changing diction of our newsreaders, politicians, aristocracy and celebrities. Suffice it to say that even acting schools no longer teach RP effectively - compare Ian Richardson with Laurence Fox.) Furthermore, I know of teachers at English private schools who think that to correct a child's grammar is "too much". Thus I believe that, as things stand, England is just as much of a sitting duck as Scotland. Whether the English education system can be improved sufficiently to combat the decline, I leave for others to judge.


CONCLUSION

As for the importance of grammar, diction and spelling, I do not think it is just a game of crass one-upmanship, with people pedantically pointing out each other's mistakes in order to feel superior. Of course there are people who use language in that way, but there is a bigger game being played, and it is the game of civilisation versus barbarism.

I believe language is central to civilisation, however illogical that may be. People follow cold logic and say that it doesn't matter how you speak as long as you are understood, and in any case language is not everything. At any rate, its ornamental nature is surplus to requirements.

However, I contend that its ornamental nature is the natural culmination of language, the thing that makes it worthwhile because it shows (and proves) that we have elevated ourselves above gesture-using animals. And gesture-using animals, or rather symbol-using iPhoners, may be our fate if we do not re-learn the value of ornament.
Elliott
 
Posts: 1800
Joined: 31 Jul 2011, 22:32
Location: Edinburgh

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Gavin » 27 Feb 2012, 19:08

A very interesting and comprehensive post. I agree with the vast majority of what you say.

I personally am conscious of the downward pressure to speak badly, and I resent it. As you say, I find myself dropping consonants and generally dumbing down my language. Frequently now in society speaking in simple English is mandatory to even be understood, since the people with whom one has to interact are either stupid or foreign. But I feel pressure not only in my choice of words but also in how I say them. There is a most definite downward pressure and it is represented at the highest levels by the likes of the BBC. The cost of not speaking in a slovenly manner is to risk ridicule, being accused of thinking you are something special and of being a snob. It elicits immediate resentment - I presume (like so many other resentments) rooted in envy.

To be overheard speaking well also, as you mentioned, identifies you as a potential victim in a society where criminals have little to fear from the law. This must be even more the case in schools (where, as well as in the home, language habits are formed). So people emerge now either speaking very badly or with that repulsive private school liberal drawl which I expect you have also heard. What I think is the nicest accent of all, RP (or rather a complete lack of accent) is now firmly in the postmodern firing line. Charlotte Green will likely be the last newsreader who speaks as she does on Radio 4, I dare say.

So I think you describe all of the problems extremely well. Thank you for taking the time to write such a long post, which I will leave pinned to the top of the forum for a while.

I also entirely agree that language is descending. I utterly reject the liberal linguistic opinion that "twas ever thus". We are not talking about new words being introduced to express hitherto unexpressed nuances. We are talking about the opposite: a over-simplification and retardation of self-expression. Furthermore it is extremely widespread, as you mention. We have all seen the reports from employers about how they have to teach even university graduates how to write letters, and school leavers how to spell. This in no small part explains why the economy is in the state it is in now, and it explains why a Pole is often preferable to a Brit: they are almost always more pleasant and they usually speak better English. How they even understand many English people now, their enunciation is so appalling, I do not know.

Into this mix, to help degrade literacy further, has gone multiculturalism, as you said. Not only this, but principally, and most harmfully, the valuing of anything culturally foreign above culturally anything British (providing - of course - that the cultures in question are African or Arabic - despite these having precisely the characteristics which should define them as offensive for most liberals).

I think the Internet has made it easier for people to be lazy. The abbreviations they use on forums enter into their speech too. It has also made it far easier for people to be obnoxious to one another (because of anonymity). On a site such YouTube one sees there two habits combined, with an intelligent or properly written comment being exceedingly rare.

Will this continue? Will we see the full scale collapse of correct English under the weight of this relativist rubbish? Have you heard of the book Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban? It is written in a cobbled together post-apocalyptic language much as you suggest will eventually arrive. It's hard to read - but then (and I really mean this) so are many YouTube and Facebook comments now. We're getting there. See also the "city-speak" mish-mash of Blade Runner.

That's bleak. But I do not think there is certainty we will reach this point. Your posting has to assume that nothing is done about this issue, that the downward spiral simply continues. But this is not a certainty. As things descend further, it could be that a party gets into power who will begin to reverse the decay, though this would hardly be a painless process. Civilisations do fall, but they rise again too. Perhaps as it becomes even more obvious how low we are going, drastic political measures will be taken and we'll begin to rise again. Truths will be told, action taken. No more prizes for all - because civilisation will depend on it.

We see the tide changing in a small way in society already I think. Liberals are not finding it quite as easy to advance their positions. The Guardian is often ridiculed and its circulation is low. Labour are looking pathetic. Most people, I think, accept that the cuts are necessary and they know full well who to blame.

So I agree with your post (who couldn't, if they are actually exposed to everyday UK society?) but I don't think the conclusions are necessarily so bleak. That does not mean society does not need to face up to these problems, act on them, and insist on higher standards, right now. If the population accept a reassertion of standards, then the saving of civilisation may be relatively straightforward. If, instead, they react with hurt pride and the kind of relativism that has got us, nationally, into this position in the first place, then saving civilisation certainly will not be smooth - but it might well still happen.
Gavin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 3432
Joined: 27 Jul 2011, 18:13
Location: Once Great Britain

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Paul » 28 Feb 2012, 01:29

Elliott, a very good post indeed, very well written and I think highly accurate.
Paul
 
Posts: 512
Joined: 02 Aug 2011, 11:37
Location: Lancashire, England.

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 28 Feb 2012, 16:58

A very interesting and comprehensive post.

Thank you very much, and to Paul D. I want to apologise again for it being so lengthy. Working on it I realised there was so much to say - and once a passage has been written it seems silly to remove it because it may not find a better home in any future essay. However I did try to keep it concise!

that repulsive private school liberal drawl which I expect you have also heard

I'm not sure that I have, unless you mean this kind of thing. Please let me know if that isn't what you were referring to, because I like to keep track of accents.

The only privately-educated people I meet nowadays are from Scotland which has its own linguistic cancers. However I am astonished to find that so many English celebrities are privately-educated when they speak with working-class accents. Jodie Marsh is a jaw-dropping example. Either these people have shed their poshness after leaving private school, or the school itself is allowing or even encouraging its pupils to speak that way. And to be honest, that last option seems the most likely.

I don't know where you would have to send your child today if you wanted them to acquire an RP accent. What celebrated person under 40 today has an accent void of estuary English vowels? The one and only example I can think of is Douglas Murray. So the answer is nothing less than Eton will do! But then, there are modern Etonians who speak nothing like Murray, so the only conclusion is that you cannot rely on any private school to give your child good diction. In fact I'm not convinced you can rely on them for anything at all anymore.

What I think is the nicest accent of all, RP (or rather a complete lack of accent) is now firmly in the postmodern firing line.

Well, let's be honest: RP is an accent as much as any other. It would be truer to say it has a complete lack of regional basis. But we're quibbling over term. I agree that RP is the nicest accent - and I mean proper RP, like this. Proper RP is one of the reasons I love 1970s TV drama. To hear people speaking properly, when all around me struggle to communicate a shopping list eloquently - feels like liberation. After a day in modern Britain, I go home, put on a DVD of something made 40 years ago, and see two men in a three-walled set arguing with wonderful middle-class verbosity, and it's like being let back into the farmhouse from the pig sty.

RP is the best accent for expressing things. But of course all accents have their advantages. Welsh is great for telling jokes. Liverpudlian is good for pontificating. Yorkshire is good for laying down the law. Edinburgh is great for sounding smug and patronising. Cockney is great for intimidating people into buying something. Glaswegian is great for intimidating people full stop. But RP is easily the best for communication.

However, I don't mind when people speak with non-RP accents - indeed, I myself do not speak with RP. What annoys me is when people, of whatever accent, choose to speak badly. This tends to mean glottal stops, leaving off the ends of words, and speaking ungrammatically. I think it's a disgrace. It's as if people want to come across as careless and boorish.

RP is a very easy accent to degrade because it is ornate and has many features that can be chipped off. I would repeat the comparison between Laurence Fox and Ian Richardson. Richardson's voice is perfect and in less than 2 minutes displays a dazzling range of characteristics: intelligent, expressive, sarcastic, evocative, precise, threatening, humorous, self-effacing, arrogant, gentle, vicious, devious, charming, ironic, decisive, obsessed, detached and even, towards the end, psychopathic. Next to that, Laurence Fox just sounds like a huffy, half-interested adolescent with his degraded RP. That is the difference between RP taught in the 1950s (by an elocution teacher in Scotland) and RP taught in the 1990s (at Harrow!).

I think perhaps one of the reasons that men are happy not to speak properly is that doing so requires a certain care, a certain delicacy, that could be regarded as effeminate. For example, compare the Glaswegian and RP ways of saying the same sentence:

A wouldnae dae tha'.

I wouldn't do that.


The latter, especially with its final "t" sound, would be regarded by the Glaswegian as camp and effeminate.

So when men degrade their speech, it could be because they are trying to sound more masculine. (Few would say that Emma West, with her appalling diction, sounded feminine.)

Charlotte Green will likely be the last newsreader who speaks as she does on Radio 4, I dare say.

I would say that's an absolute certainty.

I utterly reject the liberal linguistic opinion that "twas ever thus". We are not talking about new words being introduced to express hitherto unexpressed nuances. We are talking about the opposite: a over-simplification and retardation of self-expression.

Yes. As in all issues, liberals have stock arguments for this, one being that "even Shakespeare broke the rules! He invented new words!" - as if every inarticulate schoolchild has the right to do the same, as if every illiterate has achieved sufficient mastery to begin breaking the rules. Of course nothing could be farther from the truth, and their breaking the rules merely increases their inability to learn them at all. If it goes far enough it will make us all aliens to each other (which by bizarre coincidence, would make us all extremely reliant on the state). The very idea of likening badly-spoken schoolchildren to the linguistic and observational genius of William Shakespeare is so stupid that I can't find words to denounce the utopianism underlying it.

it explains why a Pole is often preferable to a Brit: they are almost always more pleasant and they usually speak better English. How they even understand many English people now, their enunciation is so appalling, I do not know.

You're right. Last year I was on a ferry over to Germany. I got talking to a British soldier (from Middlesbrough) and a young German boy of 18. The subject turned to films and the soldier asked the boy if he watched 'arry po'a, meaning Harry Potter. The German boy didn't understand so the soldier repeated the question, in exactly the same way. God knows how, but the boy understood! I really don't know how foreigners manage it. I have watched a pleasant Chinese man getting on the bus at Edinburgh airport and, upon inquiring of the driver whether this was the right bus, being told: "A go ae thi toon cen'arr" (I go to the town centre).

An interesting tangent is that the German boy I mentioned above showed absolutely no signs of the stereotypical German, just as the average English boy of today doesn't have the characteristics people associate with Englishness. The German boy wasn't serious, wasn't interested in studying or learning, and had no interest in art or opera or engineering. His tastes, like his accent, were totally American: he liked gross-out comedies and was obsessed with getting stoned, and wanted to drop out of college despite being obviously intelligent. I think he was maybe overwhelmed by parental expectations and had decided to just "jack it in" - and his culture hadn't rescued him by demanding he be a good German. This seems like another Western culture deciding not to stand for anything, and thus instigating its own destruction. Decades from now the young kids from today are going to realise that stoner movies, bad speaking, vulgarity and a vague wish to approve of anything and everything, achieve nothing.

I think the Internet has made it easier for people to be lazy. The abbreviations they use on forums enter into their speech too. It has also made it far easier for people to be obnoxious to one another (because of anonymity). On a site such YouTube one sees there two habits combined, with an intelligent or properly written comment being exceedingly rare.

A recent article in the Daily Telegraph had teachers apparently saying that pupils were actually using textspeak in their speech. I can't imagine this. How do you say "OMG"? I can imagine someone saying "LOL" - though it would be rather surreal to say "I'm laughing out loud" while not actually doing so. And I would pay money to hear someone saying "ROTFLMAO".

As for whether the Internet has promoted bad English, I really don't know. Twitter has its 140-character limit but that needn't mean bad English, and in any case the trend was there long before Twitter. There is no reason why fast communication methods should mean fast, careless writing. You could even expect the opposite: since the message will be instantly received, I can afford to spend time finessing it. But that simply hasn't happened. I think it is more likely to be a result of general cultural collapse. A culture that believed in itself would insist on decent communication whatever the method. More evidence that the technology is not to blame comes from the tools it makes available for spellchecking and instant learning of grammar - nobody does it, which can only mean that they are not inclined to.

Will this continue? Will we see the full scale collapse of correct English under the weight of this relativist rubbish? Have you heard of the book Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban? It is written in a cobbled together post-apocalyptic language much as you suggest wil eventually arrive. It's hard to read - but then (and I really mean this) so are many YouTube and Facebook comments now. We're getting there. See also the "city-speak" mish-mash of Blade Runner.

You forgot the most famous of all: Nadsat. Of course Nadsat has its own artistry, and is actually more appealing than the disordered mutterings we hear from real-world youth! Oh, for the future yob of 1962...

Alex wrote:There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry.

The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus mesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skorry these days and everybody very quick to forget, newspapers not being read much neither. Well, what they sold there was milk plus something else.


Re. comments on Facebook and Youtube comments, I agree they are hard to read, and after you decipher them you realise they are banal and weren't worth the trouble!

But what's even worse is the Youtube videos themselves. It is very difficult to find a video that doesn't have spelling errors, typos and grammar errors. If you think about what has gone into making it possible for someone to post a video on Youtube - the engineering, the research, the programming, the science, the logistics, the mathematics - it is astonishing that people are so careless with a privilege they have done nothing to earn, and only have by virtue of being born into this age. People in Victorian London would be dumbstruck by the technologies we have today... so much effort and progress, just casually abused by people who can't be bothered to check their grammar, or to try different spellings until the red squiggly line goes away.

In general, I think that if somebody really cares about what they're writing, they will care about how they write it and they'll write it properly. (This unfortunately includes Marxists, but you can't have everything.) It's the same with politicians; when one of them affects estuary English, you know at once that he doesn't really believe what he's saying and is only trying to convince the crowd that he's the best yes-man on the shelf.

The worst for this are the Miliband brothers. They actually have very good diction (their devoutly Communist father couldn't have his own sons talking like proles) and they generally speak solid RP, but they affect the glottal stop amongst other things in order to appear "not posh". I find it painful to listen to. Each glottal stop is like a little electric shock. Just watch this video of Ed Miliband and bear in mind this is a wholly affected performance; he knows how to speak properly and would, unaffectedly, be doing it, but he is trying to sound "common":



That's bleak. But I do not think there is certainty we will reach this point. Your posting has to assume that nothing is done about this issue, that the downward spiral simply continues. But this is not a certainty.

I agree, it's not a certainty. Indeed the decline could be arrested and reversed starting from 9am tomorrow if the will was there. The question is: why is the will not there? What has brought us to this point?

Of course there is always a danger of blowing a problem out of proportion, but in this case I don't think we will fix the problem unless we address the full scope of it, which is that we have (irrationally) lost faith in Western civilisation. It's no good saying "we should speak with good English" if we believe that England itself is bad.

Likewise, it's no good teaching kids the rules of English grammar but then saying "it's just for writing purposes. You don't need to speak this way. We're not trying to change you!" What's going to happen? The same bad habits will seep back in. Either we realise that civilisation is an all-pervasive process which must be welcomed and allowed into every area of life, or we sit back and watch the cancer eat away at those areas we have professed to care about - like grammar.

Civilisations do fall, but they rise again too.

I don't mean to be difficult, but can you give examples of this?
Elliott
 
Posts: 1800
Joined: 31 Jul 2011, 22:32
Location: Edinburgh

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Gavin » 28 Feb 2012, 18:42

Hi Elliott.

What an annoying and apparently vacuous girl you linked to speaking about her "journalism". Yes, that is approximately the kind of tone and delivery I mean. I haven't been able to find a link to exactly what I mean, however I heard the student feminism representative of Cambridge University on the radio the other day (objecting to Dominic Strauss Kahn being invited to speak there) and she had exactly the annoying voice in question. I had to put up with it from both males and females at the university I attended. It is usually accompanied by a certain smugness and uptalk.

The main thing to say about it, I think (to them especially) is that it is quite distinct from either RP or the kind of English that the aristocracy speak (or used to speak!). I suppose it's what "new money" aspiring posh people speak. Apparently it is drummed into them at private schools.

The kind of RP I like most, I suppose, is that of Richard E. Grant (though perhaps his is a little high pitched, like Dawkins). Martin Jarvis speaks very well too, and has read many a spoken book very well. Often it seems one needs to be raised in Kenya in order to come out speaking well.

"T" is surely the most neglected consonant these days, I often drop it myself and am on a mission to stop doing so. And if I hear David Cameron once more refer to the country he governs as "Bri-un"!

Re. civilisations, I am certainly not an expert in history, but I referred the Roman Empire. You may be able to correct me on this matter, but while the empire fell to - literally - barbarians, Italy is today (at least) part of the developed world. Of course, even if civilisations had not previously fallen and resurrected, that isn't proof in itself that it cannot happen. There would just be considerable turmoil, as may happen here. I'm hardly arguing that the decline of civilisation is not something that should be taken seriously (since it can always rise again!) - just that it might rise again. Needless to say it is preferable that it does not fall in the first place.
Gavin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 3432
Joined: 27 Jul 2011, 18:13
Location: Once Great Britain

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Michael » 28 Feb 2012, 21:08

Excellent essay Elliott. I read the whole thing with great enjoyment. I particularly liked your highlighting of vanishing distinctions. It is worrying to read about, because I absolutely agree with you that loss of distinction leads to shallowness of thought.

Here in Canada most people speak proper English, and while there exists some regions with appalling diction and pronunciation, they are neither widespread nor imitated except for purposes of mockery. There are concerns here about poor grammar and diction, but it exists exclusively among the French speaking population of Quebec, who worry that their language is, due to close proximity with English speakers, losing its purity. For this reason we have a long and absurd history of language laws regulating that packaging in all parts of this allegedly bilingual country has to be in French and English, while the Quebecois are allowed to surround themselves with packaging and signs containing no English at all. However, that is a tertiary issue - I just find it interesting to note that worry about declining language quality is not universal to English speakers.

As another interesting side note, my greatest grammar tutor was my grandmother. Despite growing up the daughter of a poor fisherman in an isolated Nova Scotia village she was a voracious reader and developed over her life an excellent command of English, and insisted that her children and grandchildren always use proper grammar and pronunciation. My parents both reinforced her lessons, often correcting my sister and I on word choice. I recall once imitating Homer Simpson's ejaculation of "D'oh" near my mother. She is a kind, tolerant woman but that one occasion is, I think, the closest she ever came to slapping me. She reprimanded me for acting like a buffoon, and when I feebly defended myself by saying that I had heard another boy at school using the line she told me that I was never to imitate those inferior to me. It is a lesson that stuck.
Michael
 
Posts: 304
Joined: 01 Aug 2011, 21:28
Location: Canada

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Darian » 28 Feb 2012, 22:32

Wonderful essay Elliott, It's quite a harrowing read.

Michael wrote more or less what I was going to write. We in English Canada speak English quite clearly and there are not any major regional dialects to impede communication (Quebec is a different matter of course, but they're essentially a foreign nation).

I can't help but find it somewhat amusing that North Americans now speak better English than the English. Maybe the importation of American media can ensure that the language doesn't decline and devolve too far, lest they be unable to understand their precious gross-out comedies;)
Darian
 
Posts: 71
Joined: 29 Oct 2011, 01:25

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 29 Feb 2012, 05:25

Darian, thank you for reading the essay.

People from all foreign countries, but especially Anglosphere ones, speak better English than we do in Britain. It's a mark of national embarrassment for us. But they don't teach English in any systematic way in schools (I was never taught grammar, or what the subject, instrument and object are, etc.) so it's not surprising, especially given the cultural context of latent boorishness, that we cannot speak our own language very well. But we've chosen to be like this. It's an absolute disgrace.

And yes, American cultural imports may prevent our language from declining too far. It depends which means more to us: being cool or being boorish (being "with it" or being "authentic"). I wouldn't want to take a bet.

I saw a fascinating documentary a few years ago whose thesis (advanced by a nice posh woman) was that regional accents are actually dying out in Britain. She interviewed four generations of a Yorkshire family and got each one to say the word "here" and it was amazing to watch. With each generation, the word became less extreme, starting with the great-grandfather as a two-syllable, angled sort of word, and ending with the teenage girl as a one-syllable, very flat word. Elsewhere in the documentary she played WW1 records of regional dialects from all over the kingdom (they were recordings of British POWs made by the Germans) and it was amazing that, in those days, the north of England actually had bits of Scottish in it. For example the word "father" was pronounced "faither" by men from Newcastle. So on the evidence of that, regional accents are actually disappearing.

I'm not sure how that corresponds with the very obvious decline in diction. I think it is the case that accents are being diluted (by mass media) while words and phrases are becoming more localised and spelling is being drastically simplified.

And spelling really is being simplified. In the OP I noted that the shortest spelling wins out and illustrated this with the words "you're" becoming "your" and "too" becoming "to". Actually it's more extreme: ur and 2.

Another possible development is that, with the Internet replacing mass media with instantly available local media (ie, videos your friends and neighbours have made and uploaded) the decline in regional accents will actually stop and be reversed.
Elliott
 
Posts: 1800
Joined: 31 Jul 2011, 22:32
Location: Edinburgh

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 29 Feb 2012, 05:35

Michael wrote:Excellent essay Elliott. I read the whole thing with great enjoyment.
Thank you. I'm glad people have enjoyed it. I have other articles in the offing and nearly abandoned this one because I thought it was becoming very dry!

I particularly liked your highlighting of vanishing distinctions.
Well, if you can think of any more, please add them! (This thread could become a historical document for our future ape overlords.)

I just find it interesting to note that worry about declining language quality is not universal to English speakers.
That's reassuring. I have to admit I based my assumption that the Anglosphere was in general linguistic decline from Youtube comments etc. - you know the person has English as a first language but you don't know which country they come from. Would you say Canada was in a better state than America, in this regard? Another thing is I've noticed that American teenagers speaking to the camera on Youtube are usually very inarticulate and slow to form sentences - not a good sign.

she told me that I was never to imitate those inferior to me.
See, that is the kind of thing that British class guilt has made impossible. No British parent within the last 30 years would say that to their children. I sometimes think that countries without a ramified class system can get away with snobbery in a way the Brits can't, because we're so busy trying to escape from the Victorians.
Elliott
 
Posts: 1800
Joined: 31 Jul 2011, 22:32
Location: Edinburgh

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 29 Feb 2012, 06:06

Gavin wrote:What an annoying and apparently vacuous girl you linked to speaking about her "journalism".
Yes, she's just an expensively-schooled airhead. It's a cause of deep self-hate that I find her attractive.

Yes, that is approximately the kind of tone and delivery I mean. I haven't been able to find a link to exactly what I mean... I had to put up with it from both males and females at the university I attended. It is usually accompanied by a certain smugness and uptalk.
Ah, I think I know exactly what you mean now.


The kind of RP I like most, I suppose, is that of Richard E. Grant (though perhaps his is a little high pitched, like Dawkins). Martin Jarvis speaks very well too, and has read many a spoken book very well.
The thing is, there were so many different kinds of RP. People bemoan it nowadays, saying that in the bad old days, all actors sounded the same. They didn't. It's a fact that's simply been made up. In any decade of the 20th century, a specific kind of RP was fashionable. Compare these two actors, born only 26 years apart:



Even within the same age group, different schools clearly gave their pupils different versions of RP. For example, compare these two actors who are pretty much the same age (filmed in 1979).

"T" is surely the most neglected consonant these days, I often drop it myself and am on a mission to stop doing so. And if I hear David Cameron once more refer to the country he governs as "Bri-un"!
I know, but he's not as bad as the Milibands, or the hideous Ed Balls (who actually went to private school).

Re. civilisations, I am certainly not an expert in history, but I referred the Roman Empire. You may be able to correct me on this matter, but while the empire fell to - literally - barbarians, Italy is today (at least) part of the developed world. Of course, even if civilisations had not previously fallen and resurrected, that isn't proof in itself that it cannot happen. There would just be considerable turmoil, as may happen here. I'm hardly arguing that the decline of civilisation is not something that should be taken seriously (since it can always rise again!) - just that it might rise again. Needless to say it is preferable that it does not fall in the first place.
Well I'm not an expert in history, by any stretch of the imagination! But as a frequent visitor to Italy, I have to say that I wouldn't put Italians in charge of a cake stall. They're a strange people; they work very hard but never seem to get anything done. For example, in the town where I go, there's a bridge that has been getting slowly built for thirty years. Whenever the money runs out, they stop building it. A few years later more money is found for the project and it is resumed, only to get abandoned again. It's unbelievable.

But they are a different people to us and what's true for them needn't be true for us. I know a neocon who thinks that this is going to be the Anglosphere's greatest century. He is convinced that Britain and America etc. are the only countries capable of leading the modern world. Interestingly enough, he's a gay Jew! He has that aggressive optimism that we tend to think is quintessentially American, and he hates all kinds of pessimism and defeatism and prejudice. (This is why I could never be a neocon!) But who knows? Maybe he's right. Maybe China will not come to anything spectacular, India will sink under the weight of its corruption, the European continent will become a picturesque irrelevance, the Middle East will boil itself into lead-lined oblivion, Africa will continue as it is, Russia will continue to dement itself, and the future will indeed be driven by the Anglosphere.

When I write it like that, it does actually seem quite likely. But I just don't know how we're going to get from here to there.
Elliott
 
Posts: 1800
Joined: 31 Jul 2011, 22:32
Location: Edinburgh

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Caleb » 29 Feb 2012, 06:47

Once again, Elliott, you have offered us another great missive.

I think it is definitely a problem everywhere, but it's more of a problem in Britain. There is still, at some level, an expectation amongst the middle class populations of Canada, the U.S.A., Australia and New Zealand that people will speak correctly, though I'm sure that notion is still under assault (perhaps just not as heavily).

Incidentally, people in other nations, particularly Japan, really complain about the degradation of their written languages (and I am sure this must bleed into the spoken language too). Because Japan has kana, kanji (characters) are apparently falling by the wayside. This is not as much of an issue in the Chinese speaking world (though they have their various forms of writing without characters), but it is still happening. It's interesting to me to watch many of my students really struggle to write certain Chinese characters and then to see them resort to either writing a simplified character (unlike China, Taiwan uses traditional characters, which are usually much more complex) or even bopomofo. What's worse is to see teachers or other adults use the wrong characters. At least people will point such things out here though. A while ago, I asked one of the men doing his compulsory military/community service at our school to write on the board telling anyone using my classroom over the holidays not to leave a mess. When I came back after the break, someone (presumably one of the teachers) had written the correct characters in red chalk above or below what the military serviceman had written. The present military serviceman is also just as bad. Interestingly, both are from Taipei and spent several years abroad (which marks them as most definitely middle to upper-middle class here). My wife, who is only in her twenties, notices these kinds of things all the time. Even I notice incorrect characters sometimes! Could you imagine anyone correcting anyone else's English on the blackboard in a school in an English speaking country though?! All hell would break loose. I have heard, though I can't really confirm or deny this, that French and German are becoming degraded and many young people struggle with some of the more complex grammar. I wonder if this is a world-wide phenomenon in developed countries.

What really blows my mind is that I work as an English teacher in a foreign country and many of my fellow (native speaking) English teachers speak and write terribly. More than that, many don't care. They subscribe to the school of thought that so long as you can communicate, it doesn't matter. As has been pointed out, everyone is dubbed a budding Shakespeare.

Even worse is when native speakers deliberately dumb down their own English. I constantly hear things such as "yesterday, he not go work" from other native speakers because they think it's easier for Taiwanese people to understand. Along with this, they -- regardless of nationality -- affect a weird kind of accent that is vaguely North American, but unlike any North American accent I've ever heard and actually makes them sound like complete morons. It's like a strange version of upspeak, baby talk and Californian all rolled into one. It all drives me up the wall, and I mock my friends mercilessly if they do it. I hold up the example of my wife who speaks much, much better English than most Taiwanese here (and foreigners tell her so too), including those also married to native-English speakers. Sure, she still has all sorts of problems because the languages are so different (and Chinese lacks the verb conjugations, pronouns and plurals that English has) and she also learnt English as an adult. However, the simple fact of the matter is that I don't speak like a moron around her. As such, she doesn't speak entirely in the first person singular simple present.

My wife says that I do speak differently around my friends -- that I speak faster and use more complex words (obviously, since it's silly to use really obscure words with non-native speakers who are still at a really basic level) -- but that I don't speak like most English teachers here, even when I speak to a Taiwanese person. Then again, some foreigners have also told her that I speak in a more sophisticated manner than they do. At the end of the day, people are only going to acquire correct language if they are exposed to it.

The great irony of all of this is that not only have I never explicitly taught my wife grammar, but that I don't drill and kill grammar in my students either. This relates to Elliott's point about his mother's students. To be honest, she's simply fighting an uphill battle because of all around her. It's always worth fighting the good battle, but it's a losing one in her case.

I also lament the end of RP and its cousin Mid-Atlantic English (which is not the annoying accent used by foreigners in Taiwan). They are simply nicer sounding accents than many regional varieties, though I actually really like Welsh accents. There does seem to be a convergence across the English-speaking world towards a handful of modern accents that are all equally obnoxious in their own ways. Fortunately, I don't have a very strong Australian accent, because I think most Australian accents are quite ugly, and they're probably really difficult for many people to understand also.

Regarding civilisations rising again, there are lots of examples, both natural and synthetic. The European Renaissance is an obvious example, though it's overly simplistic to characterise the Middle Ages as backward. Various other civilisations from the Near to Far East have also experienced such cycles to some extent also. China has a long history full of ups and downs. In the synthetic sphere, we could look at the recent history of the Hebrew language.

In terms of who is going to lead the world, it is easy to look at the decline of the West and throw one's hands in the air. However, looking around at people here (and in all the other non-Western nations I've been to from Russia to Egypt to much of Southeast Asia), I just can't figure who is going to get it together well enough to knock America off its top spot. Incompetence abounds. I personally think that to some extent, the nation state is going to be largely irrelevant and we're going to see an international class of rich who all use English as a de facto first language because they've been educated abroad or at international schools (and may even have dual-citizenship), work at multi-national firms, and who move in circles of similar people. In War and Peace, many of the major characters have to actually learn (or greatly improve at speaking) Russian when Napoleon invades because they speak French and have more in common with a French aristocrat than a Russian peasant. In that sense, the affluent person from Shanghai may have more in common on a whole lot of levels with the affluent person from Mumbai or Sao Paolo than any would with their compatriots. Then, there will be a kind of a vanishing middle class, and a massive under class (many of whom will have the outward appearance of being middle class, both materially and culturally, but who won't be internally middle class in either sense). This would be, to a certain extent, a return to the historical mean.
Caleb
 
Posts: 865
Joined: 20 Oct 2011, 04:44

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Paul » 29 Feb 2012, 23:09

Yes, a great post which I've just read again and this time read some of the links as well.

The Telegraph article which reports on children now 'interviewing' applicants for teaching posts is simply astonishing. I agree moderately with children giving feedback about school meals (excluding pizza and burgers) but the rest is just jaw-dropping stuff. How can a country become so incredibly stupid after such greatness?

I've related some of the content of your post and the article to my Mother. She retired from the Education sector in 2009 after 33 years service. She was secretary at a local Primary School. At some point the post became Administration Officer which then became School Business Manager, titles which interested her not. As she has said, it has that whiff of style over substance.

She wasn't dismayed by some of what I related. She saw the decline all across the board between 1976 and her retirement date. She retired with a degree of relief, though tinged with sadness.

In the latter 10 years of her employment she recognised she was being gradually undermined and squeezed out by the new breed of staff, including the head who seemed more interested in securing funding (she was very good at it) which was then spent on pointless and money-wasting schemes. Frivolous and inefficient staff were supported by the head because 'she liked them', irrespective of their failures.

Mother was dismayed to see teachers sit in the staff room, merely yards apart from each other, texting each other on their phones ........... about such things as soap operas and X Factor. It's surreal. Teachers increasingly came to work dressed down in casual if not revealing attire, a large reason being is they wished to voyeurishly display their tattoos.

She has seen e-mails go out to the local authority containing the now typical example you gave - 'I should of done.......such and such'. This is a school for goodness sake.

On very many weeks she told me that the headteacher spent just one day in the five at work at school. On other weeks she reported that some days there was just one teacher on duty in the entire school. The rest of the classes were being run by the ubiquitous classroom assistants, nearly all of whom were drawn from the local council estates. Many of them were single parents, spoke badly, could not spell to save their lives and would look down on any corrections, secure in the knowledge they had the support of the head. A primary school of 7 separate years had a staff of 30, the overwhelming majority of whom were texting, X Factor watching, single parent, tattooed estate dwellers. One young woman took an after-school class doing 'aerobics' for the single-figure aged girls, dressed in leotard and other titillating attire, had recently changed her name by Deed Poll, had spent time in a 'Womens' Refuge' and ............ wait for it, worked some evenings in a lap-dancing bar. Not as a cleaner either I might add. Astonishing and in fact deeply disturbing. Meanwhile the headteacher, very business and money-minded set up an online dating agency which she then went on to promote at the school .......... to the single parent assistants and parents (of which there were many), including probably the lap-dancer.

Seriously. Yes, I have to say it because it sounds so bizarre, even malicious lies. But it's true.

In her last 2 years my Mother was coerced (forced really because she turned 65) into working first 3 days per week and then just two days. She still used to take work home, as she had done for decades, but this was now severely underpaid (unpaid in fact). She was then told she herself would get an assistant to help with the load. In two years 5 such assistants came and went and Mum (who is not mean nor unkind) stated that not one of them was up to the job. They were all over the age of 30, some over the age of 40. None of them could spell. One couldn't even count coinage and bag it up correctly. All of them made fundamental mistakes with accounts representing dinner monies, school trip monies and various other collections. When figures didn't add up or balance in the books, the assistants employed creative (but childish) accounting to make the figures look good. Apart from being astonished she was eventually quite stressed by it. She feared a period of service of 3 decades could be undermined in months by fools who couldn't do a job that was ultimately her responsibility. Eventually because of stress she whistleblew her concerns and the head agreed to remove some duties from her. At least certain things were no longer her responsibility, but as she said - 'Lord knows how things will pan out now. The situation can only get worse. The people employed are simply not up to the job.' At the same time subliminal antipathy towards her increased. She was 'old-school' and not fashionable enough, too strict and correct. She knew her time was coming, though she had hoped to work until aged 70. My father, and I and my sister exhorted her to call it a day and retire, with a well-earned pension in hand. Now she has done she is mightily relieved ........ though this hasn't stopped her from going at 1000 miles per hour in all sorts of hobbies and schemes - she recently became licensed as a registrar of marriages at the local catholic church she has attended all her life. I don't know how she does it.

There is more, much more, but it's too exhaustive to relate and some of it could be libellous, without definitive proof on paper.

Before I forget - my Mum says that apostrophies are to be abandoned in schools. The reason is that people don't know them or understand them, so the thinking is we should just be rid of them. I wonder when we might get rid of the Highway Code for the same reasons?

Slightly off-tack, I heard last week that the Theory Test for driving is now presented in 19 languages. I'm not sure if this is true but I do know that signs saying 'Roadworks for six weeks' are only displayed in one.
Paul
 
Posts: 512
Joined: 02 Aug 2011, 11:37
Location: Lancashire, England.

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 04 Mar 2012, 19:02

Gavin, I had meant to reply to some other points you made, but forgot. My apologies.

Gavin wrote:As things descend further, it could be that a party gets into power who will begin to reverse the decay, though this would hardly be a painless process. Civilisations do fall, but they rise again too. Perhaps as it becomes even more obvious how low we are going, drastic political measures will be taken and we'll begin to rise again. Truths will be told, action taken. No more prizes for all - because civilisation will depend on it.
I think that this will happen, ultimately. We will be forced into actions which we have resisted and coyly denounced for decades. As you say, there won't really be a choice: it will be necessary if our civilisation is to survive.

We see the tide changing in a small way in society already I think. Liberals are not finding it quite as easy to advance their positions. The Guardian is often ridiculed and its circulation is low. Labour are looking pathetic. Most people, I think, accept that the cuts are necessary and they know full well who to blame.
This is something I think it is difficult to be sure about, because it changes from one month to the next. Right after the London riots, everyone (with the exception of Guardian readers and Harriet Harman) was decrying the welfare state, childbirth out of wedlock, softly softly policing, etc. That's died down and we're not even a year on yet!

I also think that there was probably a window of opportunity for conservatives when Labour lost the election. Cameron should have put the foot down on conservative values there and then. But, for whatever reasons, he didn't, and I think that now, as the cuts come into force, the public may renounce their acceptance of the cuts and retreat back into the comfort of the social outlook New Labour sold them: welfare, credit and progressivism.

It's true that Guardian readers don't have the easy ride they had 10 years ago, but the British public are so programmed for cultural Marxism now that I think it will soon reassert itself in their views. Things just aren't bad enough yet for people to accept the reality and make sacrifices - but I share your optimism that this will eventually come about.

However, I think the first area in which conservative change will be accepted - and this may indeed be happening already - is education. There are just too many stories of Mickey Mouse courses and emasculated universities selling useless Gender Studies degrees, and too many stories of PC in the classroom, lack of competitive sports, lack of history teaching, lack of basic numeracy and literacy... Everyone wants their child to get into one of the few remaining grammar schools because everyone knows they are vastly superior academically to comprehensives. The decline is obvious everywhere, and everyone is quite willing to admit it (again, with the exception of Guardian readers, but their attitude to this only cements the British public's view of them as detached lefties).

So, I do believe that any British government willing to dismantle the education establishment and rebuild it from scratch with solid conservative values would have overwhelming support from the public. I'm not saying I think it's going to happen tomorrow, but I think everyone is aware it will have to happen.

Opposition to it will come from those hellbent on cultural Marxism, the kind of shrill lefties who insist on mediocrity (like Fiona Millar). But it will be doable if the government has the guts to simply ignore these people - let them be disproven and forgotten by the course of history.

As for Scotland, I don't think it is going to happen here. We have just seen the introduction of a new curriculum, the Curriculum for Excellence, which enshrines the hellishly bureaucratic mentality that has brought our education system to its knees. And then there's all the illiterate and ignorant teachers you'd have to get rid of. And you'd have to gut out the teacher training colleges. (Both of these problem apply to England, too, although you could circumvent them by making every school a Free School.)
Elliott
 
Posts: 1800
Joined: 31 Jul 2011, 22:32
Location: Edinburgh

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Gavin » 04 Mar 2012, 23:36

Elliott, I was just brushing up on Newspeak earlier, and it occurred to me that the dumbing down of our language may be exactly what the socialist government wanted, the reason being (as Orwell said) that if we cannot express ourselves precisely then we are less able to object to the state.

It's the usual question: have they let these things happen because they're just stupid and misguided, or is it all a deliberate, evil plan? Probably a combination of the two.
Gavin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 3432
Joined: 27 Jul 2011, 18:13
Location: Once Great Britain

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Caleb » 05 Mar 2012, 05:19

Elliott wrote:However, I think the first area in which conservative change will be accepted - and this may indeed be happening already - is education. There are just too many stories of Mickey Mouse courses and emasculated universities selling useless Gender Studies degrees, and too many stories of PC in the classroom, lack of competitive sports, lack of history teaching, lack of basic numeracy and literacy... Everyone wants their child to get into one of the few remaining grammar schools because everyone knows they are vastly superior academically to comprehensives. The decline is obvious everywhere, and everyone is quite willing to admit it (again, with the exception of Guardian readers, but their attitude to this only cements the British public's view of them as detached lefties).


I'm not so sure about this. In theory, everyone wants more discipline and better standards in schools. In theory everyone thinks tertiary education should be more exclusive and there should be no Mickey Mouse degrees.

Now try telling Mrs Smith that her son is the one causing all the problems in class and he needs to be severely punished. Now try telling Mrs Jones that her daughter needs to repeat history class because she failed. Now try telling Mr Brown that his son won't be going to university.
Caleb
 
Posts: 865
Joined: 20 Oct 2011, 04:44

Next

Return to Education

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests

User Menu

Login Form

This site costs £100 per year to run and makes no money.

If you would like to make a small contribution to help pay for the web hosting, you can do so here.

Who is online

In total there are 2 users online :: 0 registered, 0 hidden and 2 guests (based on users active over the past 5 minutes)
Most users ever online was 175 on 12 Jan 2015, 18:23

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests
Copyright © Western Defence. All Rights Reserved.